Director: Peter Segal
Studio: Gerber Pictures, Callahan Filmworks
Stars: Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Hart, Alan Arkin
So someone thought it would be a good idea to pair Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone and let the screen icons parody themselves and their much-loved old boxing flicks. Who’d come out on top in a slugfest, the Raging Bull or Rocky Balboa?
Not the worst premise for a movie, actually, and a pretty good pretext to throw De Niro and Stallone together. Instead, though, the actors come perilously close to trashing themselves in Grudge Match, a comedy/drama that’s equal parts The Sunshine Boys, Gran Torino and every damn boxing movie made since the 1920s. In the flick, directed by Peter Segal (Get Smart), from a screenplay credited to Tim Kelleher, Rodney Rothman and Doug Ellin, De Niro and Stallone play old-time heavyweight champ palookas still so full of growly animosity for each other after three decades that they’re willing to fall in with hustling, motormouthed small-time promoter Kevin Hart (not his best work), promote the hell out of themselves in the most embarrassing ways and finally face off in the ring. Their decision to sell out brings forth Alan Arkin as Stallone’s salty, no-b.s. ex-trainer and Kim Basinger (looking embarrassed and tentative) playing Stallone’s old flame and the mother of Jon Bernthal, De Niro’s long-lost son, a physical trainer and all-around good guy. Way too much of what follows is excruciatingly predictable and hateful. Tired jokes about man boobs, gays, balls, Viagra, Geritol…seriously? It’s all just a long setup for the big finale between the two aging titans. After all the sludge that precedes it, the fight itself needs to be a real barnburner, and although Stallone and De Niro look to be in pretty good shape, the fight sequence itself turns out to be so sluggish and sad, it’s like it’s shot underwater.
Despite the less-than-inspired circumstances, Stallone, with his altered face, hulking mass and slowing gait, is especially touching and affecting; there’s a sadness about him and his performance that gives the film a dignity and pathos it otherwise lacks. These two stars—and the films that helped put them on the map, particularly the masterpiece Raging Bull—deserve so much better.